Doctors Who Code: Which Programming Language Should I Learn?

One of the most frequent questions I often get from fellow doctors is, “Hey, I want to learn how to code too. Which programming language should I begin with?”

Honestly, the quick answer to this question is a boring one: “It depends.”

Let’s first discuss what coding means.

Simply put, coding is one of the methods used to instruct a computer. You can certainly command a computer to perform tasks without coding—for instance, telling the computer to send your email when you hit the send button. With coding, however, you have much more control; you can create programs that allow users to interact with the send email function themselves. In other words, coding grants you more power over the technology you are engaging with.

So, as a doctor, how do you start learning to code? It really depends on the tech direction you want to pursue. Consequently, the language you should learn is determined by the product you intend to develop with code. Assuming doctors gravitate towards health tech, due to their educational background, and aim to become medical developers—or ‘med-devs’ as I like to call them—here are some relevant development pathways with their corresponding languages.

Building Medical of Health Apps

Health and medical-related apps are often the most practical digital products that med-devs can create. There are two approaches to app development: native and hybrid platforms.

The native platform is the standard method for creating an app designed specifically for one operating system. For instance, if you wish to develop a native Android app, you are committing to build an application tailored for Android devices using the platform’s default technologies. The languages for native app development include:

  1. Native iOS: Swift
  2. Native Android: Kotlin or Java

Conversely, hybrid apps are built with code that can be deployed across multiple platforms, such as iOS, Android, web, Windows, and more. Hybrid development is invaluable if you lack the time or resources to maintain separate codebases for each platform. Various frameworks support hybrid app development, each requiring knowledge of specific languages:

  1. Flutter – Dart
  2. React Native – JavaScript
  3. Ionic – JavaScript, HTML, CSS
  4. Xamarin – C#

Web Development

As a med-dev, you have the opportunity to construct health and medical websites or web apps. Web developers commonly employ HTML, CSS, and the JavaScript language for crafting these digital platforms. Unlike native apps, which are designed to run on specific devices, a website or web app resides on a server and is delivered to users via the internet.

AI, Machine Learning and Data Science

Delving into AI and Data Science can revolutionize healthcare. These fields offer the capacity to analyze large volumes of medical data, enhancing decision-making and predictive analytics. Python, a beginner-friendly language, shines in this domain with its extensive libraries and supportive community. R also holds a significant place, especially for statistical analysis and in research-focused data operations. Machine learning frameworks like TensorFlow and PyTorch, which are Python-based, are often employed here. SQL is also another excellent language used to work with data. There are also newer languages such as Julia and the recently launched Mojo (a language dedicated to AI development).

Cybersecurity in Healthcare

As healthcare services increasingly digitize patient records, cybersecurity becomes crucial. Protecting sensitive information against breaches necessitates an understanding of programming to identify vulnerabilities and to fortify systems. Python, for its scripting and automation capabilities, and C, for a more in-depth systems-level perspective, are widely utilized.

Healthcare Informatics

Healthcare informatics bridges healthcare and information technology. Here, SQL is essential for database management, Java is robust for backend services, and Python is versatile for data analysis and system integration—all aimed at enhancing healthcare operations.

Research and Development

Your research as a med-dev may involve developing new algorithms, simulations, or computational models. MATLAB is a popular choice for research prototyping, thanks to its extensive suite of tools. Python is also a favorite among researchers for its simplicity and the powerful SciPy stack.

For Just Some Coding Fun

If your aim is to learn beginner-friendly languages for the sheer joy of coding and experiencing the thrill of creating cool things on your computer, consider exploring these languages:

  1. Python
  2. Ruby

But what if your interest lies solely in learning coding algorithms without delving into specific programming languages? In that case, Scratch is an excellent choice. Scratch is not only suitable for learning algorithms but is also an outstanding tool to introduce programming to kids.

Final Words

The selection of a programming language is less about the language itself and more about the opportunities it creates within the expansive field of healthcare technology.

It’s important to emphasize that once you master one programming language, learning subsequent languages becomes much easier. Many languages share similar algorithmic patterns, although the terminology or keywords used may vary. For instance, languages like Python may have terms closer to English, while others, like C, may present more complex syntax.

Whether you’re automating tasks, extracting insights from data, crafting a groundbreaking app, or securing patient data, there is a language that fits your objectives. The key lies in beginning with the end in mind and selecting the tool that best facilitates your journey to that end.

As the convergence of technology and healthcare progresses, the role of the meddev is ever more vital. Learning to code is not merely about acquiring a new skill but about becoming a trailblazer in a domain poised for significant transformation. So, choose your language, embark on coding, and join the innovative forces shaping the future of medicine!


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